In a paean to the strength of the human spirit, the extraordinary nature of language and the yearning for connection, this remarkable novel blends the threads of two disparate lives in a path toward one another, the prose as elegant as the characters.
Leo Gursky has lived in stunning loneliness for most of his life and loved but one woman devotedly, a girl he grew up with in the old country. Leo stays behind when she goes to America, only to see his entire family annihilated by the Nazi's. Years later, after living as a refugee, he arrives in America, only to learn his sweetheart has married, believing him dead in the pogroms.
Since childhood, Leo has escaped through his writing, pages that fill the long, quiet hours of his days. As an old man, he ponders the fate of his first book, lost along the way years ago. Close to the end, Leo craves only to be seen by others, to be acknowledged in the world every day: "All I want is not to die on a day that I went unseen." With his damaged heart, Leo waits for the Angel of Death to appear and take him away.
Meanwhile, in New York, Alma Singer grows up adoring her father, although he dies of pancreatic cancer when she is only seven. Alma's younger brother, Bird, is an increasingly religious child who believes he may be the Messiah and her beautiful mother cannot recover from the loss of a beloved husband. Her mother spends hours translating books to support the family, never leaving the house, withdrawing into memories: "She chose my father, and to hold on to a certain feeling, she sacrificed the world."
Alma Singer is named after all the women in a small, but poignant book, "The History of Love,” written in Spanish. Alma's father gave this tome to her mother when they met; now her mother has been commissioned to translate the book into English, sending their benefactor a few chapters at a time, which Alma reads surreptitiously. The book is written with exceptional insight and compassion, the lovely heroine, Alma, at the heart of it: "Her answer was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.”
As she reads the pages, young Alma Singer is changed, filled with a deep, indefinable yearning. Her subsequent search for connection will open the doors of the past, releasing years of loneliness and regret, reaching across generations: from the pogroms of the Jews in their homelands to a cosmopolitan city in South America where the book is published; to America, where lost souls wander the streets, where fathers and sons never meet, where a woman grieves, a young boy prays to be the Chosen One and a girl finds her way to the one person who will extinguish the burning in her soul.
Beautifully written, with exquisite sensitivity and compassion, The History of Love will open your heart, fill you with the bright light of understanding and leave you enriched for the experience. This author has created an extraordinary gift, not just a novel, but a journey into the deepest chambers of the human heart.